Collective fear prevails as serial slasher remains at large on World Metal Health Day

KARACHI: It is World Mental Health Day 2017 Tuesday (October 10). And an air of collective fear prevails in Karachi.

A serial slasher has been on a stabbing spree in Gulshan-e-Iqbal and adjoining areas over the past week. On Wednesday, the official toll of survivors had reached 11. Unofficial accounts suggest that the number of survivors has crossed 20. Police insist that the lone attacker is a ‘psychopath’. He travels on a motorcycle wearing a helmet and exclusively targets women. Earlier reports suggested that he was attacking women, irrespective of age or family backgrounds, in the gluteal region. However, one survivor later shared that that the ‘psychopath’ aimed at her chest during the attack.

A number of complaints were registered at different police stations while a Rs0.5-million reward was announced for any information that might lead to the attacker, a private television channel quoted a report by Minerwa Tahir as saying Tuesday.

Similar to the Karachi attacks, a series of similar knife attacks were reported between 2013 and 2016 in Punjab’s Sahiwal district. “Almost 40 women were attacked in Chichawatni by a man on a motorbike using a sharp paper cutter,” says DIG East Sultan Khowaja. Waseem, the alleged attacker from Punjab, was released on bail last year. He has been declared an absconder and is wanted for the attacks.

“His goal is to create fear and unrest,” the DIG adds.

Meanwhile, Waseem has been missing from his village, 86/6-R, for the last five months, according to his family. After reports of similar attacks on women in Karachi, law-enforcers grilled the father and brother of Waseem and learned the youth had left home for Lahore or Gujranwala for work five months ago. He remains at large.

Police officials have now admitted their failure in arresting the culprit. As a result, women are not just perturbed – they are also expressing outrage at the absurdity of the situation. The failure of our law enforcement agencies in arresting the culprit has left women dismayed and angry.

According to classical dancer and feminist activist Sheema Kermani, women are always the lowest on the list of priorities. “And then those women who are out on the road, using public space and public transport are even lower in priority,” she lamented. “Our state and our governments pay no heed to their security or their lives. This is most unfortunate and this must change – women are more than half of the population. Their lives must be made secure.”

Kermani said that the current scenario “not only give[s] us frustration but make[s] us unhappy, angry, resentful and often lead to severe depression!”

According to Andaleeb Rizvi, a teacher at Karachi University’s visual studies department, her architecture students at KU are scared of going out in the field. “It is extremely distressful for me as a teacher and as a woman that my students, especially young women, some of whom are breaking taboos in their families by taking up a generally male-dominated profession, are feeling intimidated and threatened by these attacks,” she said. “It is very discouraging.”

Zoya Anwer Naqvi, a journalist who recently returned from the U.S., said that “the attacks started a few days before I came back but surprisingly it was very normal to take in the news.” According to her, this shows how we have conditioned ourselves to always be prepared for fight and flight instead of fearing the situation. “It adds to my anxieties, doubling my effort to survive each day on the roads,” she added.

According to Alvira Ali, it for the first time in her life that her mother is feeling hesitant to let her step out, particularly in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal area. “Her hesitance because of this knifeman had angered me more than anything,” she said. “I don’t want to kill him but yes, I do want to be face to face with him and ask a very simple question: ‘Why?’.” She was of the view that the knife-wielding attacker needs psychiatric treatment. Speaking in the same vein, Amrah binte Anjum said that the serial slasher needs therapy. Lashing out at the failure of law enforcers, she said that it is absurd that a man keeps on attacking women with knives and our incompetent security officials are wondering if the man is clearing some Blue Whale challenge.

“I’m wondering if it will take an important person [getting] stabbed in order for our police to take commando action,” said Sarah Hasan, a journalist. “How they tried to bury this case and how they gave up on the knife attacker’s arrest speaks about the security concerns of the government for the civilians.”

Faizan Lakhani, a journalist, shared that in the wake of these attacks that are happening in broad daylight, his son’s tuition teacher has refused to come to teach him. “It has affected our routine,” he said.

According to Kermani, women need to organize protests and come out in large numbers against these conditions. “Let us unite and ask the government to quit if it cannot provide security for our lives!” she said. “The life of every citizen must be protected and this is our (women’s) basic right as a citizen. Why can’t more be done to push the police force to provide security [to us instead of] protecting those in power?”

Transgender activist Kami Sid lamented that society in general is making jokes about the terrible incidents of knife attacks. “They have to stop making these jokes and the government officials should stop making us fools,” she said. “The common woman needs to step out of the confines of their homes and protest against this.”

Sharmeen Khan, a clinical psychologist, said that the knife-wielding attacker has thrown an entire district of Karachi into fear. “Not leaving home or not going to bazaars is exactly what the perpetrator would be aiming at,” she said. “[He wants] to create fear and chaos. In order to not let the knife-man win, we need to continue living our lives as usual.”

She advised women to be more vigilant of people around them and use road safety such as footpaths and overhead bridges. “Succumbing to fear creates an imbalance, which any person not adhering to the law is aiming for, irrespective of their mental health or primary motives,” she said.